Indian Super League is the latest sensation to the Indian football fraternity. Inaugurated in 2014, it has created a buzz in Indian football. The sensation which Indian football lacked throughout history seems to be complete.
It’s a franchisee based league currently having 8 teams representing 8 cities of India, Kolkata, Chennai, Kochi, Pune, Mumbai, Guwahati, Delhi and Panjim. Presently India is the only country having 2 top tier league with I League and ISL. Whereas I league is featuring traditional fan based clubs, ISL is completely franchisee based and is owned by industrialists, just like the Major League Soccer in USA and Canada.
I league has traditionally been a semi-pro league featuring clubs like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Salgaocar (which have huge supporter base) or clubs like United Sports, Bharat FC (which have hardly any supporter base). The main problem with I league is that the management of most of these clubs is in the hands of amateur people who just keeps running the clubs for decade just to keep some power in their hands. They have no football expertise or domain knowledge. For them, these clubs have turned into their estates and they behave like feudal landlords. The supporters of these clubs though want their clubs to be run professionally, are happy when the clubs win one or two trophies in a season.
On the other hand EPL which features supporter based clubs, which is also regarded as benchmark for professional club managers, features clubs run by efficient people and owned by Industrialists. Money flows into the clubs, players get paid regularly and clubs earn good revenue through the sponsorships and EPL revenue model.
This EPL model, had they been introduced in India in 1996 when the first NFL was organised, could have brought major changes in the game in India. Instead, they have yielded nothing. India still lacks far behind.
MLS in USA on the other hand features franchisee clubs which are awarded to franchisees who runs the clubs completely like an enterprise. Supporters support the clubs which represent their cities. Normally, the theme is one city one club. This helps in keeping the supporter base intact. These clubs also get huge sponsorship money and earn good return. If any club incur losses or are managed unprofessionally, the franchisee is cancelled and new franchisee is awarded for the same city, may be in the same name.
The same model is followed in A League in Australia which has developed a new model. The A league stands as the premier division in Australian soccer. They also have state premier leagues which come in Tier II of the football structure. Now this model can be followed in India with some changes.
AIFF has been planning to merge both the top leagues and create a single league featuring some new entrants. How have they planned it completely their decision, but it is possible to run both the leagues simultaneously following the Australian model, with a twist.
Let’s keep ISL as the top tier featuring franchisee based clubs and featuring at least 14-18 teams. Then the Tier II will be the current I league featuring the supporter based clubs. Most of the state has state leagues which can be kept in Tier III and below as per their situation. Since, the I league clubs also features in the state leagues, they can field their U-23 teams in the state league as a part of their youth development programme. This pattern is available in La Liga where Real Madrid and Barcelona features their B & C teams in lower leagues. Even Leo Messi played for C, and then B teams before entering the senior team.
There can be points against this model as to how will the franchisees will earn revenue if another team represents the city in a lower level league. Now, this is a matter of concern since these I league team have a huge fan following, some more than hundred years. Also, if the franchisees make money, how will the clubs survive?
Well, the clubs in I league can tie up with the franchisees and share a portion of the revenue. They can also shift their bases. For e.g Athletico de Kolkata will play ISL matches from Kolkata, so the Mohun Bagan can shift its base to Howrah or Burdwan and East Bengal can shift its base to Siliguri where they can find supporters and make money from ticket sale. But currently these clubs make money from sponsorships and not from ticket sale so they can still continue their matches from Kolkata without losing revenue.
So here lies a main concern. Who will make money if this pattern follows and who will lose? But isn’t the same problem persists if after merging, Kolkata will have 4 teams, Athletico de Kolkata, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting. Won’t that be more confusing? What the AIFF is planning and what will actually be done in Indian football is still in future, nobody knows what will happen.
Another question which lies is whether after reconstruction, Indian football will improve or will it be in the same vegetative state? ISL has created a lot of stir and enthusiasm among Indian football lovers. But will this continue or just the clubs and franchisees will make money but the condition of national team won’t improve? Only time can tell.